The Captain, June 1907
the conclusion of the picnic.
IF the form-rooms had been lonely, the Great Hall was doubly, trebly, so. It was a vast room, stretching from side to side of the middle block, and its ceiling soared up into a distant dome. At one end was a daïs and an organ, and at intervals down the room stood long tables. The panels were covered with the names of Wrykynians who had won scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge, and of Old Wrykynians who had taken first in Mods or Greats, or achieved any other recognised success, such as a place in the Indian Civil Service list. A silent testimony, these panels, to the work the school had done in the world.
Nobody knew exactly how many the Hall could hold, when packed to its fullest capacity. The six hundred odd boys at the school seemed to leave large gaps unfilled.
This morning there was a mere handful, and the place looked worse than empty.
The Sixth Form were there, and the school prefects. The Great Picnic had not affected their numbers. The Sixth stood by their table in a solid group. The other tables were occupied by ones and twos. A buzz of conversation was going on, which did not cease when the masters filed into the room and took their places. Every one realised by this time that the biggest row in Wrykyn history was well under weigh; and the thing had to be discussed.
In the Masters’ library Mr. Wain and Mr. Shields, the spokesmen of the Common Room, were breaking the news to the headmaster.
The headmaster was a man who rarely betrayed emotion in his public capacity. He heard Mr. Shields’s rambling remarks, punctuated by Mr. Wain’s “Exceedingly’s,” to an end. Then he gathered up his cap and gown.
“You say that the whole school is absent?” he remarked quietly.
Mr. Shields, in a long-winded flow of words, replied that that was what he did say.
“Ah!” said the headmaster.
There was a silence.
“ ’M!” said the headmaster.
There was another silence.
“Ye—e—s!” said the headmaster.
He then led the way into the Hall.
Conversation ceased abruptly as he entered. The school, like an audience at a theatre when the hero has just appeared on the stage, felt that the serious interest of the drama had begun. There was a dead silence at every table as he strode up the room and on to the daïs.
There was something Titanic in his calmness. Every eye was on his face as he passed up the Hall, but not a sign of perturbation could the school read. To judge from his expression, he might have been unaware of the emptiness around him.
The master who looked after the music of the school, and incidentally accompanied the hymn with which prayers at Wrykyn opened, was waiting, puzzled, at the foot of the daïs. It seemed improbable that things would go on as usual, and he did not know whether he was expected to be at the organ, or not. The headmaster’s placid face reassured him. He went to his post.
The hymn began. It was a long hymn, and one which the school liked for its swing and noise. As a rule, when it was sung, the Hall re-echoed. To-day, the thin sound of the voices had quite an uncanny effect. The organ boomed through the deserted room.
The school, or the remnants of it, waited impatiently while the prefect whose turn it was to read stammered nervously through the lesson. They were anxious to get on to what the Head was going to say at the end of prayers. At last it was over. The school waited, all ears.
The headmaster bent down from the daïs and called to Firby-Smith, who was standing in his place with the Sixth.
The Gazeka, blushing warmly, stepped forward.
“Bring me a school list, Firby-Smith,” said the headmaster.
The Gazeka was wearing a pair of very squeaky boots that morning. They sounded deafening as he walked out of the room.
The school waited.
Presently a distant squeaking was heard, and Firby-Smith returned, bearing a large sheet of paper.
The headmaster thanked him, and spread it out on the reading-desk.
Then, calmly, as if it were an occurrence of every day, he began to call the roll.
“Here, sir,” from a table at the end of the room. Allenby was a prefect, in the Science Sixth.
The headmaster made a mark against his name with a pencil.
He began to call the names more rapidly.
“Arlington. Arthur. Ashe. Aston.”
“Here, sir,” in a shrill treble from the rider in motor-cars.
The headmaster made another tick.
The list came to an end after what seemed to the school an unconscionable time, and he rolled up the paper again, and stepped to the edge of the daïs.
“All boys not in the Sixth Form,” he said, “will go to their form-rooms and get their books and writing-materials, and return to the Hall.”
(“Good work,” murmured Mr. Seymour to himself. “Looks as if we should get that holiday after all.”)
“The Sixth Form will go to their form-room as usual. I should like to speak to the masters for a moment.”
He nodded dismissal to the school.
The masters collected on the daïs.
“I find that I shall not require your services to-day,” said the headmaster. “If you will kindly set the boys in your forms some work that will keep them occupied, I will look after them here. It is a lovely day,” he added, with a smile, “and I am sure you will all enjoy yourselves a great deal more in the open air.”
“That,” said Mr. Seymour to Mr. Spence, as they went downstairs, “is what I call a genuine sportsman.”
“My opinion neatly expressed,” said Mr. Spence. “Come on the river. Or shall we put up a net, and have a knock?”
“River, I think. Meet you at the boat-house.”
“All right. Don’t be long.”
“If every day were run on these lines, school-mastering wouldn’t be such a bad profession. I wonder if one could persuade one’s form to run amuck as a regular thing.”
“Pity one can’t. It seems to me the ideal state of things. Ensures the greatest happiness of the greatest number.”
“I say! Suppose the school has gone up the river, too, and we meet them! What shall we do?”
“Thank them,” said Mr. Spence, “most kindly. They’ve done us well.”
The school had not gone up the river. They had marched in a solid body, with the school band at their head playing Sousa, in the direction of Worfield, a market town of some importance, distant about five miles. Of what they did and what the natives thought of it all, no very distinct records remain. The thing is a tradition on the countryside now, an event colossal and heroic, to be talked about in the tap-room of the village inn during the long winter evenings. The papers got hold of it, but were curiously misled as to the nature of the demonstration. This was the fault of the reporter on the staff of the Worfield Intelligencer and Farmers’ Guide, who saw in the thing a legitimate “march-out,” and, questioning a straggler as to the reason for the expedition and gathering foggily that the restoration to health of the Eminent Person was at the bottom of it, said so in his paper. And two days later, at about the time when Retribution had got seriously to work, the Daily Mail reprinted the account, with comments and elaborations, and headed it “Loyal Schoolboys.” The writer said that great credit was due to the headmaster of Wrykyn for his ingenuity in devising and organising so novel a thanksgiving celebration. And there was the usual conversation between “a rosy-cheeked lad of some sixteen summers” and “our representative,” in which the rosy-cheeked one spoke most kindly of the head-master, who seemed to be a warm personal friend of his.
The remarkable thing about the Great Picnic was its orderliness. Considering that five hundred and fifty boys were ranging the country in a compact mass, there was wonderfully little damage done to property. Wyatt’s genius did not stop short at organising the march. In addition, he arranged a system of officers which effectually controlled the animal spirits of the rank and file. The prompt and decisive way in which rioters were dealt with during the earlier stages of the business proved a wholesome lesson to others who would have wished to have gone and done likewise. A spirit of martial law reigned over the Great Picnic. And towards the end of the day fatigue kept the rowdy-minded quiet.
At Worfield the expedition lunched. It was not a market-day, fortunately, or the confusion in the narrow streets would have been hopeless. On ordinary days Worfield was more or less deserted. It is astonishing that the resources of the little town were equal to satisfying the needs of the picnickers. They descended on the place like an army of locusts.
Wyatt, as generalissimo of the expedition, walked into the “Grasshopper and Ant,” the leading inn of the town.
“Anything I can do for you, sir?” inquired the landlord politely.
“Yes, please,” said Wyatt, “I want lunch for five hundred and fifty.”
That was the supreme moment in mine host’s life. It was his big subject of conversation ever afterwards. He always told that as his best story, and he always ended with the words, “You could ha’ knocked me down with a feather!”
The first shock over, the staff of the “Grasshopper and Ant” bustled about. Other inns were called upon for help. Private citizens rallied round with bread, jam, and apples. And the army lunched sumptuously.
In the early afternoon they rested, and as evening began to fall, the march home was started.
At the school, net practice was just coming to an end when, faintly, as the garrison of Lucknow heard the first skirl of the pipes of the relieving force, those on the grounds heard the strains of the school band and a murmur of many voices. Presently the sounds grew more distinct, and up the Wrykyn road came marching the vanguard of the column, singing the school song. They looked weary but cheerful.
As the army drew near to the school, it melted away little by little, each house claiming its representatives. At the school gates only a handful were left.
Bob Jackson, walking back to Donaldson’s, met Wyatt at the gate, and gazed at him, speechless.
“Hullo,” said Wyatt, “been to the nets? I wonder if there’s time for a ginger-beer before the shop shuts.”
mike gets his chance.
HE headmaster was quite bland and businesslike about it all. There were no impassioned addresses from the daïs. He did not tell the school that it ought to be ashamed of itself. Nor did he say that he should never have thought it of them. Prayers on the Saturday morning were marked by no unusual features. There was, indeed, a stir of excitement when he came to the edge of the daïs, and cleared his throat as a preliminary to making an announcement. Now for it, thought the school.
This was the announcement.
“There has been an outbreak of chicken-pox in the town. All streets except the High Street will in consequence be out of bounds till further notice.”
He then gave the nod of dismissal.
The school streamed downstairs, marvelling.
The less astute of the picnickers, unmindful of the homely proverb about hallooing before leaving the wood, were openly exulting. It seemed plain to them that the headmaster, baffled by the magnitude of the thing, had resolved to pursue the safe course of ignoring it altogether. To lie low is always a shrewd piece of tactics, and there seemed no reason why the Head should not have decided on it in the present instance.
Neville-Smith was among these premature rejoicers.
“I say,” he chuckled, overtaking Wyatt in the cloisters, “this is all right, isn’t it! He’s funked it. I thought he would. Finds the job too big to tackle.”
Wyatt was damping.
“My dear chap,” he said, “it’s not over yet by a long chalk. It hasn’t started yet.”
“What do you mean? Why didn’t he say anything about it in Hall, then?”
“Why should he? Have you ever had tick at a shop?”
“Of course I have. What do you mean? Why?”
“Well, they didn’t send in the bill right away. But it came all right.”
“Do you think he’s going to do something, then?”
“Rather. You wait.”
Wyatt was right.
Between ten and eleven on Wednesdays and Saturdays old Bates, the school sergeant, used to copy out the names of those who were in extra lesson, and post them outside the school shop. The school inspected the list during the quarter to eleven interval.
To-day, rushing to the shop for its midday bun, the school was aware of a vast sheet of paper where usually there was but a small one. They surged round it. Buns were forgotten. What was it?
Then the meaning of the notice flashed upon them. The headmaster had acted. This bloated document was the extra lesson list, swollen with names as a stream swells with rain. It was a comprehensive document. It left out little.
“The following boys will go in to extra lesson this afternoon and next Wednesday,” it began. And “the following boys” numbered four hundred.
“Bates must have got writer’s cramp,” said Clowes, as he read the huge scroll.
Wyatt met Mike after school, as they went back to the house.
“Seen the ‘extra’ list?” he remarked. “None of the kids are in it, I notice. Only the bigger fellows. Rather a good thing. I’m glad you got off.”
“Thanks,” said Mike, who was walking a little stiffly. “I don’t know what you call getting off. It seems to me you’re the chaps who got off.”
“How do you mean?”
“We got tanned,” said Mike ruefully.
“Yes. Everybody below the Upper Fourth.”
Wyatt roared with laughter.
“By Gad,” he said, “he is an old sportsman. I never saw such a man. He lowers all records.”
“Glad you think it funny. You wouldn’t have if you’d been me. I was one of the first to get it. He was quite fresh.”
“Should think it did.”
“Well, buck up. Don’t break down.”
“I’m not breaking down,” said Mike indignantly.
“All right, I thought you weren’t. Anyhow, you’re better off than I am.”
“An extra’s nothing much,” said Mike.
“It is when it happens to come on the same day as the M.C.C. match.”
“Oh, by Jove! I forgot. That’s next Wednesday, isn’t it? You won’t be able to play!”
“I say, what rot!”
“It is, rather. Still, nobody can say I didn’t ask for it. If one goes out of one’s way to beg and beseech the Old Man to put one in extra, it would be a little rough on him to curse him when he does it.”
“I should be awfully sick, if it were me.”
“Well, it isn’t you, so you’re all right. You’ll probably get my place in the team.”
Mike smiled dutifully at what he supposed to be a humorous sally.
“Or, rather, one of the places,” continued Wyatt, who seemed to be sufficiently in earnest. “They’ll put a bowler in instead of me. Probably Druce. But there’ll be several vacancies. Let’s see. Me. Adams. Ashe. Any more? No, that’s the lot. I should think they’d give you a chance.”
“You needn’t rot,” said Mike uncomfortably. He had his day-dreams, like everybody else, and they always took the form of playing for the first eleven (and, incidentally, making a century in record time). To have to listen while the subject was talked about lightly made him hot and prickly all over.
“I’m not rotting,” said Wyatt seriously, “I’ll suggest it to Burgess to-night.”
“You don’t think there’s any chance of it, really, do you?” said Mike awkwardly.
“I don’t see why not? Buck up in the scratch game this afternoon. Fielding especially. Burgess is simply mad on fielding. I don’t blame him either, especially as he’s a bowler himself. He’d shove a man into the team like a shot, whatever his batting was like, if his fielding was something extra special. So you field like a demon this afternoon, and I’ll carry on the good work in the evening.”
“I say,” said Mike, overcome, “it’s awfully decent of you, Wyatt.”
Billy Burgess, captain of Wrykyn cricket, was a genial giant, who seldom allowed himself to be ruffled. The present was one of the rare occasions on which he permitted himself that luxury. Wyatt found him in his study, shortly before lock-up, full of strange oaths, like the soldier in Shakespeare.
“You rotter! You rotter! You worm!” he observed crisply, as Wyatt appeared.
“Dear old Billy!” said Wyatt. “Come on, give me a kiss, and let’s be friends.”
“If it wasn’t illegal, I’d like to tie you and Ashe and that blackguard Adams up in a big sack, and drop you into the river. And I’d jump on the sack first. What do you mean by letting the team down like this? I know you were at the bottom of it all.”
He struggled into his shirt—he was changing after a bath—and his face popped wrathfully out at the other end.
“I’m awfully sorry, Bill,” said Wyatt. “The fact is, in the excitement of the moment the M.C.C. match went clean out of my mind.”
“You haven’t got a mind,” grumbled Burgess. “You’ve got a cheap brown paper substitute. That’s your trouble.”
Wyatt turned the conversation tactfully.
“How many wickets did you get to-day?” he asked.
“Eight. For a hundred and three. I was on the spot. Young Jackson caught a hot one off me at third man. That kid’s good.”
“Why don’t you play him against the M.C.C. on Wednesday?” said Wyatt, jumping at his opportunity.
“What? Are you sitting on my left shoe?”
“No. There it is in the corner.”
“Right ho. . . . What were you saying?”
“Why not play young Jackson for the first?”
“Rot. What does size matter? Cricket isn’t footer. Besides, he isn’t small. He’s as tall as I am.”
“I suppose he is. Dash, I’ve dropped my stud.”
Wyatt waited patiently till he had retrieved it. Then he returned to the attack.
“He’s as good a bat as his brother, and a better field.”
“Old Bob can’t field for toffee. I will say that for him. Dropped a sitter off me to-day. Why the deuce fellows can’t hold catches when they drop slowly into their mouths I’m hanged if I can see.”
“You play him,” said Wyatt. “Just give him a trial. That kid’s a genius at cricket. He’s going to be better than any of his brothers, even Joe. Give him a shot.”
“You know, it’s a bit risky,” he said. “With you three lunatics out of the team we can’t afford to try many experiments. Better stick to the men at the top of the second.”
Wyatt got up, and kicked the wall as a vent for his feelings.
“You rotter,” he said. “Can’t you see when you’ve got a good man? Here’s this kid waiting for you ready made with a style like Trumper’s, and you rave about top men in the second, chaps who play forward at everything, and pat half-volleys back to the bowler! Do you realise that your only chance of being known to Posterity is as the man who gave M. Jackson his colours at Wrykyn? In a few years he’ll be playing for England, and you’ll think it a favour if he nods to you in the pav. at Lord’s. When you’re a white-haired old man you’ll go doddering about, gassing to your grandchildren, poor kids, how you ‘discovered’ M. Jackson. It’ll be the only thing they’ll respect you for.”
Wyatt stopped for breath.
“All right,” said Burgess, “I’ll think it over. Frightful gift of the gab you’ve got, Wyatt.”
“Good,” said Wyatt. “Think it over. And don’t forget what I said about the grandchildren. You would like little Wyatt Burgess and the other little Burgesses to respect you in your old age, wouldn’t you? Very well, then. So long. The bell went ages ago. I shall be locked out.”
On the Monday morning Mike passed the notice-board just as Burgess turned away from pinning up the list of the team to play the M.C.C. He read it, and his heart missed a beat. For, bottom but one, just above the W. B. Burgess, was a name that leaped from the paper at him. His own name.
the m.c.c. match.
IF the day happens to be fine, there is a curious, dream-like atmosphere about the opening stages of a first eleven match. Everything seems hushed and expectant. The rest of the school have gone in after the interval at eleven o’clock, and you are alone on the grounds with a cricket-bag. The only signs of life are a few pedestrians on the road beyond the railings and one or two blazer and flannel-clad forms in the pavilion. The sense of isolation is trying to the nerves, and a school team usually bats 25 per cent. better after lunch, when the strangeness has worn off.
Mike walked across from Wain’s, where he had changed, feeling quite hollow. He could almost have cried with pure fright. Bob had shouted after him from a window as he passed Donaldson’s, to wait, so that they could walk over together; but conversation was the last thing Mike desired at that moment.
He had almost reached the pavilion when one of the M.C.C. team came down the steps, saw him, and stopped dead.
“By Jove, Saunders!” cried Mike.
“Why, Master Mike!”
The professional beamed, and quite suddenly, the lost, hopeless feeling left Mike. He felt as cheerful as if he and Saunders had met in the meadow at home, and were just going to begin a little quiet net-practice.
“Why, Master Mike, you don’t mean to say you’re playing for the school already?”
Mike nodded happily.
“Isn’t it ripping,” he said.
Saunders slapped his leg in a sort of ecstasy.
“Didn’t I always say it, sir,” he chuckled. “Wasn’t I right? I used to say to myself it ’ud be a pretty good school team that ’ud leave you out.”
“Of course, I’m only playing as a sub., you know. Three chaps are in extra, and I got one of the places.”
“Well, you’ll make a hundred to-day, Master Mike, and then they’ll have to put you in.”
“Wish I could!”
“Master Joe’s come down with the Club,” said Saunders.
“Joe! Has he really? How ripping! Hullo, here he is. Hullo, Joe?”
The greatest of all the Jacksons was descending the pavilion steps with the gravity befitting an All England batsman. He stopped short, as Saunders had done.
“Mike! You aren’t playing!”
“Well, I’m hanged! Young marvel, isn’t he, Saunders?”
“He is, sir,” said Saunders. “Got all the strokes. I always said it, Master Joe. Only wants the strength.”
Joe took Mike by the shoulder, and walked him off in the direction of a man in a Zingari blazer who was bowling slows to another of the M.C.C. team. Mike recognised him with awe as one of the three best amateur wicket-keepers in the country.
“What do you think of this?” said Joe, exhibiting Mike, who grinned bashfully. “Aged ten last birthday, and playing for the school. You are only ten, aren’t you, Mike?”
“Brother of yours?” asked the wicket-keeper.
“Probably too proud to own the relationship, but he is.”
“Isn’t there any end to you Jacksons?” demanded the wicket-keeper in an aggrieved tone. “I never saw such a family.”
“This is our star. You wait till he gets at us to-day. Saunders is our only bowler, and Mike’s been brought up on Saunders. You’d better win the toss if you want a chance of getting a knock and lifting your average out of the minuses.”
“I have won the toss,” said the other with dignity. “Do you think I don’t know the elementary duties of a captain?”
The school went out to field with mixed feelings. The wicket was hard and true, which would have made it pleasant to be going in first. On the other hand, they would feel decidedly better and fitter for centuries after the game had been in progress an hour or so. Burgess was glad as a private individual, sorry as a captain. For himself, the sooner he got hold of the ball and began to bowl the better he liked it. As a captain, he realised that a side with Joe Jackson on it, not to mention the other first-class men, was not a side to which he would have preferred to give away an advantage. Mike was feeling that by no possibility could he hold the simplest catch, and hoping that nothing would come his way. Bob, conscious of being an uncertain field, was feeling just the same.
The M.C.C. opened with Joe and a man in an Oxford Authentic cap. The beginning of the game was quiet. Burgess’s yorker was nearly too much for the latter in the first over, but he contrived to chop it away, and the pair gradually settled down. At twenty, Joe began to open his shoulders. Twenty became forty with disturbing swiftness, and Burgess tried a change of bowling.
It seemed for one instant as if the move had been a success, for Joe, still taking risks, tried to late-cut a rising ball, and snicked it straight into Bob’s hands at second slip. It was the easiest of slip-catches, but Bob fumbled it, dropped it, almost held it a second time, and finally let it fall miserably to the ground. It was a moment too painful for words. He rolled the ball back to the bowler in silence.
One of those weary periods followed when the batsman’s defence seems to the fieldsmen absolutely impregnable. There was a sickening inevitableness in the way in which every ball was played with the very centre of the bat. And, as usual, just when things seemed most hopeless, relief came. The Authentic, getting in front of his wicket, to pull one of the simplest long-hops ever seen on a cricket field, missed it, and was l.b.w. And the next ball upset the newcomer’s leg stump.
The school revived. Bowlers and field were infused with a new life. Another wicket—two stumps knocked out of the ground by Burgess—helped the thing on. When the bell rang for the end of morning school, five wickets were down for a hundred and thirteen.
But from the end of school till lunch things went very wrong indeed. Joe was still in at one end, invincible; and at the other was the great wicket-keeper. And the pair of them suddenly began to force the pace till the bowling was in a tangled knot. Four after four, all round the wicket, with never a chance or a mis-hit to vary the monotony. Two hundred went up, and two hundred and fifty. Then Joe reached his century, and was stumped next ball. Then came lunch.
The rest of the innings was like the gentle rain after the thunderstorm. Runs came with fair regularity, but wickets fell at intervals, and when the wicket-keeper was run out at length for a lively sixty-three, the end was very near. Saunders, coming in last, hit two boundaries, and was then caught by Mike. His second hit had just lifted the M.C.C. total over the three hundred.
Three hundred is a score that takes some making on any ground, but on a fine day it was not an unusual total for the Wrykyn eleven. Some years before, against Ripton, they had run up four hundred and sixteen; and only last season had massacred a very weak team of Old Wrykynians with a score that only just missed the fourth hundred.
Unfortunately, on the present occasion, there was scarcely time, unless the bowling happened to get completely collared, to make the runs. It was a quarter to four when the innings began, and stumps were to be drawn at a quarter to seven. A hundred an hour is quick work.
Burgess, however, was optimistic, as usual. “Better have a go for them,” he said to Berridge and Marsh, the school first pair.
Following out this courageous advice, Berridge, after hitting three boundaries in his first two overs, was stumped half-way through the third.
After this, things settled down. Morris, the first-wicket man, was a thoroughly sound bat, a little on the slow side, but exceedingly hard to shift. He and Marsh proceeded to play themselves in, until it looked as if they were likely to stay till the drawing of stumps.
A comfortable, rather somnolent feeling settled upon the school. A long stand at cricket is a soothing sight to watch. There was an absence of hurry about the batsmen which harmonised well with the drowsy summer afternoon. And yet runs were coming at a fair pace. The hundred went up at five o’clock, the hundred and fifty at half-past. Both batsmen were completely at home, and the M.C.C. third change bowlers had been put on.
Then the great wicket-keeper took off the pads and gloves, and the fieldsmen retired to posts at the extreme edge of the ground.
“Lobs,” said Burgess. “By Jove, I wish I was in.”
It seemed to be the general opinion among the members of the Wrykyn eleven on the pavilion balcony that Morris and Marsh were in luck. The team did not grudge them their good fortune, because they had earned it; but they were distinctly envious.
Lobs are the most dangerous, insinuating things in the world. Everybody knows in theory the right way to treat them. Everybody knows that the man who is content not to try to score more than a single cannot get out to them. Yet nearly everybody does get out to them.
It was the same story to-day. The first over yielded six runs, all through gentle taps along the ground. In the second, Marsh hit an over-pitched one along the ground to the terrace bank. The next ball he swept round to the leg boundary. And that was the end of Marsh. He saw himself scoring at the rate of twenty-four an over. Off the last ball he was stumped by several feet, having done himself credit by scoring seventy.
The long stand was followed, as usual, by a series of disasters. Marsh’s wicket had fallen at a hundred and eighty. Ellerby left at a hundred and eighty-six. By the time the scoring-board registered two hundred, five wickets were down, three of them victims to the lobs. Morris was still in at one end. He had refused to be tempted. He was jogging on steadily to his century.
Bob Jackson went in next, with instructions to keep his eye on the lob-man.
For a time things went well. Saunders, who had gone on to bowl again after a rest, seemed to give Morris no trouble, and Bob put him through the slips with apparent ease. Twenty runs were added, when the lob bowler once more got in his deadly work. Bob, letting alone a ball wide of the off-stump under the impression that it was going to break away, was disagreeably surprised to find it break in instead, and hit the wicket. The bowler smiled sadly, as if he hated to have to do these things.
Mike’s heart jumped as he saw the bails go. It was his turn next.
“Two hundred and twenty-nine,” said Burgess, “and it’s ten past six. No good trying for the runs now. Stick in,” he added to Mike. “That’s all you’ve got to do.”
All! . . . Mike felt as if he was being strangled. His heart was racing like the engines of a motor. He knew his teeth were chattering. He wished he could stop them. What a time Bob was taking to get back to the pavilion! He wanted to rush out, and get the thing over.
At last he arrived, and Mike, fumbling at a glove, tottered out into the sunshine. He heard miles and miles away a sound of clapping, and a thin, shrill noise as if somebody were screaming in the distance. As a matter of fact, several members of his form and of the junior day-room at Wain’s nearly burst themselves at that moment.
At the wickets, he felt better. Bob had fallen to the last ball of the over, and Morris, standing ready for Saunders’s delivery, looked so calm and certain of himself that it was impossible to feel entirely without hope and self-confidence. Mike knew that Morris had made ninety-eight, and he supposed that Morris knew that he was very near his century; yet he seemed to be absolutely undisturbed. Mike drew courage from his attitude.
Morris pushed the first ball away to leg. Mike would have liked to have run two, but short leg had retrieved the ball as he reached the crease.
The moment had come, the moment which he had experienced only in dreams. And in the dreams he was always full of confidence, and invariably hit a boundary. Sometimes a drive, sometimes a cut, but always a boundary.
“Two leg, sir,” said the umpire.
“Don’t be in a funk,” said a voice. “Play straight, and you can’t get out.”
It was Joe, who had taken the gloves when the wicket-keeper went on to bowl.
Mike grinned, wryly but gratefully.
Saunders was beginning his run. It was all so home-like that for a moment Mike felt himself again. How often he had seen those two little skips and the jump. It was like being in the paddock again, with Marjory and the dogs waiting by the railings to fetch the ball if he made a drive.
Saunders ran to the crease, and bowled.
Now, Saunders was a conscientious man, and, doubtless, bowled the very best ball that he possibly could. On the other hand, it was Mike’s first appearance for the school, and Saunders, besides being conscientious, was undoubtedly kind-hearted. It is useless to speculate as to whether he was trying to bowl his best that ball. If so, he failed signally. It was a half-volley, just the right distance away from the off-stump; the sort of ball Mike was wont to send nearly through the net at home. . . .
The next moment the dreams had come true. The umpire was signalling to the scoring-box, the school was shouting, extra-cover was trotting to the boundary to fetch the ball, and Mike was blushing and wondering whether it was bad form to grin.
From that ball onwards all was for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Saunders bowled no more half-volleys; but Mike played everything that he did bowl. He met the lobs with a bat like a barn-door. Even the departure of Morris, caught in the slips off Saunders’s next over for a chanceless hundred and five, did not disturb him. All nervousness had left him. He felt equal to the situation. Burgess came in, and began to hit out as if he meant to knock off the runs. The bowling became a shade loose. Twice he was given full tosses to leg, which he hit to the terrace bank. Half-past six chimed, and two hundred and fifty went up on the telegraph board. Burgess continued to hit. Mike’s whole soul was concentrated on keeping up his wicket. There was only Reeves to follow him, and Reeves was a victim to the first straight ball. Burgess had to hit because it was the only game he knew; but he himself must simply stay in.
The hands of the clock seemed to have stopped. Then suddenly he heard the umpire say “Last over,” and he settled down to keep those six balls out of his wicket.
The lob bowler had taken himself off, and the Oxford Authentic had gone on, fast left-hand.
The first ball was short and wide of the off-stump. Mike let it alone. Number two: yorker. Got him! Three: straight half-volley. Mike played it back to the bowler. Four: beat him, and missed the wicket by an inch. Five: another yorker. Down on it again in the old familiar way.
All was well. The match was a draw now whatever happened to him. He hit out, almost at a venture, at the last ball, and mid-off, jumping, just failed to reach it. It hummed over his head, and ran like a streak along the turf and up the bank, and a great howl of delight went up from the school as the umpire took off the bails.
Mike walked away from the wickets with Joe and the wicket-keeper.
“I’m sorry about your nose, Joe,” said the wicket-keeper in tones of grave solicitude.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“At present,” said the wicket-keeper, “nothing. But in a few years I’m afraid it’s going to be put badly out of joint.”
a slight imbroglio.
IKE got his third eleven colours after the M.C.C. match. As he had made twenty-three not out in a crisis in a first eleven match, this may not seem an excessive reward. But it was all that he expected. One had to take the rungs of the ladder singly at Wrykyn. First one was given one’s third eleven cap. That meant, “You are a promising man, and we have our eye on you.” Then came the second colours. They might mean anything from “Well, here you are. You won’t get any higher, so you may as well have the thing now,” to “This is just to show that we still have our eye on you.”
Mike was a certainty now for the second. But it needed more than one performance to secure the first cap.
“I told you so,” said Wyatt, naturally, to Burgess after the match.
“He’s not bad,” said Burgess. “I’ll give him another shot.”
But Burgess, as has been pointed out, was not a person who ever became gushing with enthusiasm.
So Wilkins, of the School House, who had played twice for the first eleven, dropped down into the second, as many a good man had done before him, and Mike got his place in the next match, against the Gentlemen of the County. Unfortunately for him, the visiting team, however gentlemanly, were not brilliant cricketers, at any rate as far as bowling was concerned. The school won the toss, went in first, and made three hundred and sixteen for five wickets, Morris making another placid century. The innings was declared closed before Mike had a chance of distinguishing himself. In an innings which lasted for one over he made two runs, not out; and had to console himself for the cutting short of his performance by the fact that his average for the school was still infinity. Bob, who was one of those lucky enough to have an unabridged innings, did better in this match, making twenty-five. But with Morris making a hundred and seventeen, and Berridge, Ellerby, and Marsh all passing the half-century, this score did not show up excessively.
We now come to what was practically a turning-point in Mike’s career at Wrykyn. There is no doubt that his meteor-like flights at cricket had an unsettling effect on him. He was enjoying life amazingly, and, as is not uncommon with the prosperous, he waxed fat and kicked. Fortunately for him—though he did not look upon it in that light at the time—he kicked the one person it was most imprudent to kick. The person he selected was Firby-Smith. With anybody else the thing might have blown over, to the detriment of Mike’s character; but Firby-Smith, having the most tender affection for his dignity, made a fuss.
It happened in this way. The immediate cause of the disturbance was a remark of Mike’s, but the indirect cause was the unbearably patronising manner which the head of Wain’s chose to adopt towards him. The fact that he was playing for the school seemed to make no difference at all. Firby-Smith continued to address Mike merely as the small boy.
The following, verbatim, was the tactful speech which he addressed to him on the evening of the M.C.C. match, having summoned him to his study for the purpose.
“Well,” he said, “you played a very decent innings this afternoon, and I suppose you’re frightfully pleased with yourself, eh? Well, mind you don’t go getting swelled head. See? That’s all. Run along.”
Mike departed, bursting with fury.
The next link in the chain was forged a week after the Gentlemen of the County match. House matches had begun, and Wain’s were playing Appleby’s. Appleby’s made a hundred and fifty odd, shaping badly for the most part against Wyatt’s slows. Then Wain’s opened their innings. The Gazeka, as head of the house, was captain of the side, and he and Wyatt went in first. Wyatt made a few mighty hits, and was then caught at cover. Mike went in first wicket.
For some ten minutes all was peace. Firby-Smith scratched away at his end, getting here and there a single and now and then a two, and Mike settled down at once to play what he felt was going to be the innings of a lifetime. Appleby’s bowling was on the feeble side, with Raikes, of the third eleven, as the star, supported by some small change. Mike pounded it vigorously. To one who had been brought up on Saunders Raikes possessed few subtleties. He had made seventeen, and was thoroughly set, when the Gazeka, who had the bowling, hit one in the direction of cover-point. With a certain type of batsman a single is a thing to take big risks for. And the Gazeka badly wanted that single.
“Come on,” he shouted, prancing down the pitch.
Mike, who had remained in his crease with the idea that nobody even moderately sane would attempt a run for a hit like that, moved forward in a startled and irresolute manner. Firby-Smith arrived, shouting “Run!” and, cover having thrown the ball in, the wicket-keeper removed the bails.
These are solemn moments.
The only possible way of smoothing over an episode of this kind is for the guilty man to grovel.
Firby-Smith did not grovel.
“Easy run there, you know,” he said reprovingly.
The world swam before Mike’s eyes. Through the red mist he could see Firby-Smith’s face. The sun glinted on his rather prominent teeth. To Mike’s distorted vision it seemed that the criminal was amused.
“Don’t laugh, you grinning ape!” he cried. “It isn’t funny.”
He then made for the trees where the rest of the team were sitting.
Now Firby-Smith not only possessed rather prominent teeth; he was also sensitive on the subject. Mike’s shaft sank in deeply. The fact that emotion caused him to swipe at a straight half-volley, miss it, and be bowled next ball made the wound rankle.
He avoided Mike on his return to the trees. And Mike, feeling now a little apprehensive, avoided him.
The Gazeka brooded apart for the rest of the afternoon, chewing the insult. At close of play he sought Burgess.
Burgess, besides being captain of the eleven, was also head of the school. He was the man who arranged prefects’ meetings. And only a prefects’ meeting, thought Firby-Smith, could adequately avenge his lacerated dignity.
“I want to speak to you, Burgess,” he said.
“What’s up?” said Burgess.
“You know young Jackson in our house.”
“What about him?”
“He’s been frightfully insolent.”
“Cheeked you?” said Burgess, a man of simple speech.
“I want you to call a prefects’ meeting, and lick him.”
Burgess looked incredulous.
“Rather a large order, a prefects’ meeting,” he said. “It has to be a pretty serious sort of thing for that.”
“Frightful cheek to a school prefect is a serious thing,” said Firby-Smith, with the air of one uttering an epigram.
“Well, I suppose— What did he say to you?”
Firby-Smith related the painful details.
Burgess started to laugh, but turned the laugh into a cough.
“Yes,” he said meditatively. “Rather thick. Still, I mean— A prefects’ meeting. Rather like crushing a thingummy with a what-d’you-call-it. Besides, he’s a decent kid.”
“He’s frightfully conceited.”
“Oh, well— Well, anyhow, look here, I’ll think it over, and let you know to-morrow. It’s not the sort of thing to rush through without thinking about it.”
And the matter was left temporarily at that.
mike creates a vacancy.
URGESS walked off the ground feeling that fate was not using him well.
Here was he, a well-meaning youth who wanted to be on good terms with all the world, being jockeyed into slaughtering a kid whose batting he admired and whom personally he liked. And the worst of it was that he sympathised with Mike. He knew what it felt like to be run out just when one had got set, and he knew exactly how maddening the Gazeka’s manner would be on such an occasion. On the other hand, officially he was bound to support the head of Wain’s. Prefects must stand together, or chaos will come.
He thought he would talk it over with somebody. Bob occurred to him. It was only fair that Bob should be told, as the nearest of kin.
And here was another grievance against fate. Bob was a person he did not particularly wish to see just then. For that morning he had posted up the list of the team to play for the school against Geddington, one of the four schools which Wrykyn met at cricket; and Bob’s name did not appear on that list. Several things had contributed to that melancholy omission. In the first place, Geddington, to judge from the weekly reports in the Sportsman and Field, were strong this year at batting. In the second place, the results of the last few matches, and particularly the M.C.C. match, had given Burgess the idea that Wrykyn was weak at bowling. It became necessary, therefore, to drop a batsman out of the team in favour of a bowler. And either Mike or Bob must be the man.
Burgess was as rigidly conscientious as the captain of a school eleven should be. Bob was one of his best friends, and he would have given much to be able to put him in the team; but he thought the thing over, and put the temptation sturdily behind him. At batting there was not much to choose between the two, but in fielding there was a great deal. Mike was good. Bob was bad. So out Bob had gone, and Neville-Smith, a fair fast bowler at all times and on his day dangerous, took his place.
These clashings of public duty with private inclination are the drawbacks to the despotic position of captain of cricket at a public school. It is awkward having to meet your best friend after you have dropped him from the team, and it is difficult to talk to him as if nothing had happened.
Burgess felt very self-conscious as he entered Bob’s study, and was rather glad that he had a topic of conversation ready to hand.
“Busy, Bob?” he asked.
“Hullo,” said Bob, with a cheerfulness rather overdone in his anxiety to show Burgess, the man, that he did not hold him responsible in any way for the distressing acts of Burgess, the captain. “Take a pew. Don’t these studies get beastly hot this weather. There’s some ginger-beer in the cupboard. Have some?”
“No, thanks. I say, Bob, look here, I want to see you.”
“Well, you can, can’t you? This is me, sitting over here. The tall, dark, handsome chap.”
“It’s awfully awkward, you know,” continued Burgess gloomily; “that ass of a young brother of yours—Sorry, but he is an ass, though he’s your brother——”
“Thanks for the ‘though,’ Billy. You know how to put a thing nicely. What’s Mike been up to?”
“It’s that old fool the Gazeka. He came to me frothing with rage, and wanted me to call a prefects’ meeting and touch young Mike up.”
Bob displayed interest and excitement for the first time.
“Prefects’ meeting! What the dickens is up? What’s he been doing? Smith must be drunk. What’s all the row about?”
Burgess repeated the main facts of the case as he had them from Firby-Smith.
“Personally, I sympathise with the kid,” he added, “Still, the Gazeka is a prefect——”
Bob gnawed a pen-holder morosely.
“Silly young idiot,” he said.
“Sickening thing being run out,” suggested Burgess.
“I know. It’s rather hard to see what to do. I suppose if the Gazeka insists, one’s bound to support him.”
“I suppose so.”
“Awful rot. Prefects’ lickings aren’t meant for that sort of thing. They’re supposed to be for kids who steal buns at the shop or muck about generally. Not for a chap who curses a fellow who runs him out. I tell you what, there’s just a chance Firby-Smith won’t press the thing. He hadn’t had time to get over it when he saw me. By now he’ll have simmered down a bit. Look here, you’re a pal of his, aren’t you? Well, go and ask him to drop the business. Say you’ll curse your brother and make him apologise, and that I’ll kick him out of the team for the Geddington match.”
It was a difficult moment for Bob. One cannot help one’s thoughts, and for an instant the idea of going to Geddington with the team, as he would certainly do if Mike did not play, made him waver. But he recovered himself.
“Don’t do that,” he said. “I don’t see there’s a need for anything of that sort. You must play the best side you’ve got. I can easily talk the old Gazeka over. He gets all right in a second if he’s treated the right way. I’ll go and do it now.”
Burgess looked miserable.
“I say, Bob,” he said.
“Oh, nothing—I mean, you’re not a bad sort.” With which glowing eulogy he dashed out of the room, thanking his stars that he had won through a confoundedly awkward business.
Bob went across to Wain’s to interview and soothe Firby-Smith.
He found that outraged hero sitting moodily in his study, like Achilles in his tent.
Seeing Bob, he became all animation.
“Look here,” he said, “I wanted to see you. You know, that frightful young brother of yours——”
“I know, I know,” said Bob. “Burgess was telling me. He wants kicking.”
“He wants a frightful licking from the prefects,” emended the aggrieved party.
“Well, I don’t know, you know. Not much good lugging the prefects into it, is there? I mean, apart from everything else, not much of a catch for me, would it be, having to sit there and look on. I’m a prefect, too, you know.”
Firby-Smith looked a little blank at this. He had a great admiration for Bob.
“I didn’t think of you,” he said.
“I thought you hadn’t,” said Bob. “You see it now, though, don’t you?”
Firby-Smith returned to the original grievance.
“Well, you know, it was frightful cheek.”
“Of course it was. Still, I think if I saw him and cursed him, and sent him up to you to apologise——? How would that do?”
“All right. After all, I did run him out.”
“Yes, there’s that, of course. Mike’s all right, really. It isn’t as if he did that sort of thing as a habit.”
“No. All right then.”
“Thanks,” said Bob; and went to find Mike.
The lecture on deportment which he read that future All-England batsman in a secluded passage near the junior day-room left the latter rather limp and exceedingly meek. For the moment all the jauntiness and exuberance had been drained out of him. He was a punctured balloon. Reflection, and the distinctly discouraging replies of those experts in school law to whom he had put the question, “What d’you think he’ll do?” had induced a very chastened frame of mind.
He perceived that he had walked very nearly into a hornets’ nest, and the realisation of his escape made him agree readily to all the conditions imposed. The apology to the Gazeka was made without reserve, and the offensively forgiving, say-no-more-about-it-but-take-care-in-future air of the head of the house roused no spark of resentment in him, so subdued was his fighting spirit. All he wanted was to get the thing done with. He was not inclined to be critical.
And, most of all, he felt grateful to Bob. Firby-Smith, in the course of his address, had not omitted to lay stress on the importance of Bob’s intervention. But for Bob, he gave him to understand, he, Mike, would have been prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law. Mike came away with a confused picture in his mind of a horde of furious prefects bent on his slaughter, after the manner of a stage “excited crowd,” and Bob waving them back. He realised that Bob had done him a good turn. He wished he could find some way of repaying him.
Curiously enough, it was an enemy of Bob’s who suggested the way, Burton, of Donaldson’s. Burton was a slippery young gentleman, fourteen years of age, who had frequently come into contact with Bob in the house, and owed him many grudges. With Mike he had always tried to form an alliance, though without success.
He happened to meet Mike going to school next morning, and unburdened his soul to him. It chanced that Bob and he had had another small encounter immediately after breakfast, and Burton felt revengeful.
“I say,” said Burton, “I’m jolly glad you’re playing for the first against Geddington.”
“Thanks,” said Mike.
“I’m specially glad for one reason.”
“What’s that?” inquired Mike, without interest.
“Because your beast of a brother has been chucked out. He’d have been playing but for you.”
At any other time Mike would have heard Bob called a beast without active protest. He would have felt that it was no business of his to fight his brother’s battles for him. But on this occasion he deviated from his rule.
He kicked Burton. Not once or twice, but several times, so that Burton, retiring hurriedly, came to the conclusion that it must be something in the Jackson blood, some taint, as it were. They were all beasts.
Mike walked on, weighing this remark, and gradually made up his mind. It must be remembered that he was in a confused mental condition, and that the only thing he realised clearly was that Bob had pulled him out of an uncommonly nasty hole. It seemed to him that it was necessary to repay Bob. He thought the thing over more fully during school, and his decision remained unaltered.
On the evening before the Geddington match, just before lock-up, Mike tapped at Burgess’s study door. He tapped with his right hand, for his left was in a sling.
“Come in!” yelled the captain. “Hullo!”
“I’m awfully sorry, Burgess,” said Mike. “I’ve crocked my wrist a bit.”
“How did you do that? You were all right at the nets?”
“Slipped as I was changing,” said Mike stolidly.
“Is it bad?”
“Nothing much. I’m afraid I shan’t be able to play to-morrow.”
“I say, that’s bad luck. Beastly bad luck. We wanted your batting, too. Be all right, though, in a day or two, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes, rather.”
“Hope so, anyway.”
And Burgess, with the comfortable feeling that he had managed to combine duty and pleasure after all, wrote a note to Bob at Donaldson’s, telling him to be ready to start with the team for Geddington by the 8.54 next morning.
(To be continued.)